Winter livestock husbandry checklist
With winter coming good husbandry is even more important. Most animals are okay with a bit of rain (goats maybe not so much) and most are reasonably hardy when it comes to the cold but extremes of either and certainly a mixture of the two and the weather will start to take its toll. Look through our essential winter checklist and make sure you are prepared for the coming months – your animals, and indeed your land, will thank you greatly.
Keeping your livestock in or out
Some animals are hardier than others but a large proportion of our popular and native breeds will cope with the cold well but that doesn’t mean they like it. Given the choice of standing in a soggy field in the cold and pouring rain or being in a nice dry shed with fresh bedding and a few friends to share body heat with I think we know what they are going to choose. Not everyone has the option of a huge amount of barn space but you should certainly have made provision to help your animals cope with inclement weather before introducing them to your land. If you expect to be keeping them outside all, or the vast majority of, the year, then this starts with your choice of animal. They must be designed to deal with all that mother nature can throw at them, as she inevitably will and many of our native breeds fit the bill well. These breeds often also fare well on poor quality grazing so may be able to utilise pasture that you might not usually consider suitable. It’s far from exhaustive but we have listed some particularly hardy breeds below
Pigs – try these traditional and rare breeds
Gloucester Old Spot
Sheep – many sheep breeds are hardy and capable of surviving on sparse grazing. Longwools may struggle in overly wet conditions
Balwen Welsh Mountain
Goats will generally be fine if the weather is cold and the ground firm but most hate getting wet so you should provide indoor accommodation with adjoining hardstanding for times of prolonged wet conditions.
A sturdy field shelter (natural or man made) with the opening facing away from the prevailing wind is essential to offer some respite from freezing wind and driving rain. The potential for animals to injure themselves on slippery ground is hugely increased so areas of hardstanding are also useful for when it gets particularly muddy in the fields. Hardstanding surrounding a sty, shed or barn gives them the option to stretch their legs while they are off the field. If possible position feed stations on hardstanding too as these will be places the animals congregate regularly and a grassy area will quickly become badly poached.
If you intend to keep your animals on pasture all year you should have enough land to rotate them both in the summer and winter months as this can help control the build up of parasites and protect the land from damage. Badly poached land can cause standing water to build up or conversely flow off and cause flooding. It can also make it considerably less fertile and productive when the next growing season starts, providing less nutrients for your animals with the potential knock on effect of higher feed bills.
Standing around in soggy pasture is also going to take its toll on your animals’ feet, some are more resilient to foot rot than others but constant exposure to damp, muddy conditions will eventually cause problems for everything that isn’t in wellies.
Animals such as pigs which would normally be clean and mess away from their shelter may be tempted to soil uncharacteristically when faced with hostile weather so housing will need to be checked more regularly and cleaned where necessary.
Simply put if you have the option to bring them in during particularly inclement spells then you probably should. If not, try to make the field as comfortable and practical as possible for them and yourself.
From October onwards grass will become considerably less nutritious so over the winter you must consider how you will provide the correct balance of nutrients. Feed costs inevitably rise in winter as more fodder is brought in in the form of pelleted feeds (concentrates), hay, silage and haylage. Observe your animals regularly as this will be the best indication of condition and requirements. Milk production, pregnancy, age, size and housing conditions will all affect the amount of food an individual animal requires. As always, all animals will require access to clean water with some consuming a considerable amount. It goes without saying that you should keep water in a sheltered, easy to reach location. If it must remain outside or anywhere it is likely to freeze make sure you check it regularly. Also if you live in a remote area and are likely to be cut off in heavy snow or rain then it is important that you have plenty of feed in stock to tide you over. If you are keeping your animals inside make sure their food is dispensed from a feeder that discourages waste such as a hay rack.
Goat are more browsers than grazers but when forage ceases to provide enough goodness then goats will require more in the way of concentrates, Alfa A or its equivalent and hay. Additional concentrates should be introduced gradually over a period of a couple of weeks to maintenance level which could be as much as 1kg per day. As always, females in kid require normal feeding throughout the gestation period, increasing during the last six weeks before giving birth and during lactation. For non-producing goats such as wethers, pet females and elderly animals much depends on observation by the keeper, as metabolic rate varies. Feed at maintenance levels throughout the winter and if any animal appears to be putting on too much weight, then decrease the food intake accordingly. In other words, at all times ‘feed according to need’.
Generally pigs fare well on a sow and weaner meal and grass pellets over winter and it’s only if it turns very cold that they require an increase in protein content. If you have any spare root vegetables in the ground or stored these will always be welcome additional treats
Cows are expensive to keep at the best of times and consume an enormous amount of food so estimating exactly how much you need over the winter is vital. Depending on breed and quality of your hay they can consume between 1.5% and 2.5% of body weight a day which is a huge amount over the winter period even if you have just one or two animals.
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